Presenting a case that records really don’t matter when Minnesota, North Dakota meet

It’s one of those series where “you can throw the records out the window,” just like the cliché recommends.

When No. 15 North Dakota and No. 5 Minnesota square off at 7 p.m. CDT Friday and 7:30 Saturday at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis, records, rankings, and rink location will have little bearing on the outcome; at least not the way you might think.

In the seven seasons of the Dave Hakstol era at North Dakota, the home team in the series has a fairly predictable 12-8-3 edge, with the Sioux winning three of four neutral-site games. Beyond that, the numbers get a bit more interesting.

Whenever or wherever the Gophers and Sioux have met in that time frame, the lower ranked/seeded team is 14-10-3 (.519 winning percentage). In fact, the last two times the teams met with Minnesota holding a double-digit advantage in the rankings, as is now the case, the Sioux swept both series, in 2007 and 2009.

“It’s probably not a surprise,” Hakstol said of the success of the underdog in the series’ recent history. “Rivalries in college sports are great things to be part of and we’re fortunate that we’ve got a good, traditional heated rivalry with Minnesota.”

Like any year during this always-heated rivalry between North Dakota and Minnesota, expect high intensity, big hits and a lot of activity after the whistle blows.

“The atmosphere during those games is something I’ll always remember,” said Minnesota captain Taylor Matson. “The brawls, the big hits. Everything is always more up-tempo and everything is more classified in this series.”

But just for the heck of it, let’s hold on to the records. There is a lot at stake for both teams this weekend and both teams have something to prove.

Doubters might cite the record of Minnesota’s opponents (7-9-2, not including games against the Gophers), but North Dakota presents a challenge Minnesota hasn’t seen this season. Yes, the Sioux have a losing record (3-4-1) but go ahead and throw UND’s record “out the window” for a minute.

“It’s equally important, this weekend, for us as it is for [Minnesota],” UND forward Corban Knight said. “We had some ups and downs early this season but we got a big win Saturday night and we have to build off that.”

“We haven’t really played anyone tough recently but if we beat North Dakota people will respect us a little bit more,” Matson said. “No matter what our record is and what their record is, it’s going to be a battle every shift.”

The Gophers enter the series at 7-1 overall and average 5.38 goals per game, the best in the nation by almost an entire goal. Fourteen of those goals are credited to their nation-best power play (35.9 percent). Minnesota gets a lot of its scoring from one of the top offensive lines in the country: Erik Haula (7-10–17) who leads the nation in points, Jake Hansen (3-8–11) and freshman Sam Warning (3-3–6).

Minnesota also has a fifth-rated scoring defense at 1.75 goals per game, thanks to goalie Kent Patterson, who has played every minute for the Gophers with a .940 save percentage.

This will be a great measuring stick for the Gophers because the Sioux never play dull hockey and are going to bring everything, especially to a rivalry series like this.

The Sioux are going to have to find scoring from guys other than Knight (4-6–10) and Danny Kristo (4-8–12). The defense, which was thought to be the strength of the Sioux, must improve, and the goaltending will come around with proven goaltenders — Aaron Dell (.843 save percentage, 3.47 goals against average) and Brad Eidsness (.895, 3.31).

“It’s a huge rivalry but we have to remember that there’s four points out there,” said Knight. “I heard about it even when I was playing in juniors, the North Dakota/Minnesota rivalry. It’s a lot of fun out there and I’m privileged to be a part of it.”

“There’s something different about the North Dakota atmosphere,” said Minnesota assistant captain Jake Hansen. “There’s no series that gets you more pumped up than playing North Dakota. We don’t like each other.”

CC has big test this weekend

Colorado College’s Joe Howe has the nation’s best goaltending numbers in the two important categories, but he’s played only half the amount of games compared to a lot of the country’s goalies. Nebraska-Omaha will test Howe’s .964 saves percentage and 0.90 goals against average this weekend in Omaha.

The Mavericks are led by their top line of Matt White (3-9–12), Terry Broadhurst (7-4–11) and the addition of Alex Hudson (2-3–5 in four games) upon his return from a suspension that kept him out the first four games of the season.

That line has 12 of the 24 goals scored by UNO this season, but the Mavericks offense needs to diversify this weekend — and this season — for UNO to be successful.

The Tigers scorers are ready to break out after two bye weeks and a trip out East in the first four weeks. Jaden Schwartz, Rylan Schwartz and Scott Winkler have six points each through four games. 

WCHA draws show up three NHL teams

Value City Arena at Ohio State of the CCHA has the largest capacity of any NCAA hockey arena at 17,500 but the WCHA has the next four biggest. CenturyLink Center in Omaha has a capacity of 15,959, followed by Wisconsin’s Kohl Center (15,237), UND’s Ralph Engelstad Arena (11,634) and Mariucci Arena (10,000). 

That brings us to a little nugget reader Vic Beradelli emailed us this week: the attendance after six games this season at the Ralph (10,754) and at the Kohl Center (10,699) is better than the six-game attendances of the NHL teams in Columbus (10,113), Phoenix (10,012) and Dallas (9,671). 

The averages of those NHL teams fill only a little more than half of the respective arenas.

On the collegiate end of this interesting bit is proof of how popular the game is the further west a college hockey fan travels. 

Ten WCHA arenas rank in the top 20 in capacity and they’re near full on Friday and Saturday nights more often than not.

Pioneers seek to be quicker out of gate, stay out of the box

Adam Murray’s performance as caretaker of the goaltender position until starter Sam Brittain’s January return from knee surgery was seemingly the Denver Pioneers’ only question mark heading into this season.

But a couple of trends have hurt the Pioneers in the early going, such as difficulty jump starting their offense early in games and getting into penalty trouble.

In Denver’s 10-2 win over Minnesota State on Oct. 22, for example, the Pioneers were called for six consecutive penalties in the first nine minutes of the third period.

Although the outcome was no longer in doubt, Denver coach George Gwozdecky, perturbed nonetheless, called a timeout in which he chose to step off the bench and onto the ice to deliver his message.

“At the second intermission, we’re up 7-0 and I don’t think either team wanted to play the final period of the game,” Gwozdecky said last week. “We came out and we got lazy, we got sloppy, we started taking penalty after penalty and those are things that none of [the coaches] will stand for.

“All of a sudden it got a little too loose so I just decided it was probably time to be able to say ‘OK, gentlemen, I need to get in front of you, we may need to make eye contact, and I need to give you my thoughts as to how things are going. This is not going to be a two-way discussion, this is a one-way discussion,’ and so we had that discussion and we played much better after that point.”

But in losing and tying at Michigan Tech last weekend, the Pioneers scored just four times in the series while surrendering three power-play goals. Just one of Denver’s goals came in the opening period, meaning the Pioneers have scored first-period goals in just three of their six games.

Although Gwozdecky expects a few players “whose sticks have gone cold” to come around eventually, the penalties remain a concern.

“There have been times where we have cheated defensively and, as a result, we’re getting caught out of position and we’re having to scramble,” said Gwozdecky. “We’ve taken some poor penalties that in some cases aren’t even leading to scoring chances.”

Gwozdecky hopes Monday’s physically demanding practice addressed some of the issues his team has been dealing with.

“Some of the things that we saw from our team [against Michigan Tech], especially on Friday night, were not the things we usually see from our team,” said Gwozdecky. “We tried to make some adjustments, not only in effort but in attitude as well.

“I think they were able to survive [the rigorous practice] and understand that it’s that type of effort and execution that is going to allow us to at least give ourselves the best chance to be successful.”

It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish

Goaltending concerns have dogged Minnesota-Duluth in the early going this season. Starter Kenny Reiter lugged a 3.31 goals against average and .875 save percentage into last weekend’s home series against Bemidji State, while his backup, Aaron Crandall, allowed five goals on 23 Notre Dame shots in his only action of the season on Oct. 8.

When Reiter allowed goals on BSU’s first two shots on Friday, it had all the makings of a long weekend for the Bulldogs.

In fact, just the opposite was true.

“They scored on a good play and a bad bounce, just two bad breaks for us. I try to stay calm, so I wasn’t going to dwell on it,” Reiter told the Duluth News Tribune‘s Kevin Pates after Friday’s game, a 6-2 UMD win. “We were playing well, and we knew if we stuck with it we’d be OK. We took care of the puck after that, and they didn’t see much again until late in the game.”

As it turned out, the goals would be the final shots to elude Reiter, who blanked the Beavers the rest of the weekend on the way to earning his seventh career shutout in Saturday’s 1-0 win.

“Bemidji didn’t get many good opportunities. We cleaned up things defensively and ultimately got the result we wanted, a win and a sweep,” said Reiter, whose 38 saves in 40 shots in the series might have earned him player of the week honors had it not been for a couple of other stellar performances last weekend.

Players of the week

Offensive: Milos Gordic, Michigan Tech sophomore forward

Gordic, whose 15 goals last season led the Huskies, saw his first action of the season on Friday upon his return from injury. Not eager to relinquish MTU’s goal-scoring crown, Gordic picked up where he left off against then-No. 2 Denver, registering a hat trick in his debut and adding another goal for good measure on Saturday. The four goals tie Gordic with Brett Olson for the team lead.

Defensive: Josh Robinson, Michigan Tech senior goaltender, and Kent Patterson, Minnesota senior goaltender

The two are each repeat winners in this category. Patterson was honored Oct. 11 after back-to-back shutouts of Sacred Heart to open the season. Robinson was selected the following week for his pair of overtime wins over Wisconsin.

Robinson denied 61 of 65 Denver shots on goal last weekend to help the Huskies to a win (7-2) and a tie (2-2) against the Pioneers at MTU’s MacInnes Student Ice Arena. His 4-1-1 record, 2.28 goals against average and .922 save percentage have been critical to the Huskies’ 5-2-1 start.

Patterson rebounded from a 5-4 loss to Vermont on Oct. 23 to earn his fourth shutout in eight games this season on Friday in Minnesota’s 5-0 win on the road over Alaska-Anchorage. He followed that up with a 3-1 win on Saturday and stopped 48 of 49 shots on the weekend to raise his record to 7-1-0 with a 1.74 goals against average and .939 save percentage.

Rookie: Ryan Faragher, St. Cloud State freshman goaltender

Replacing the injured Mike Lee, Faragher made 44 saves in his WCHA debut and shut out North Dakota 4-0 in Grand Forks. He followed that up with 23 saves in a 3-1 loss to the Sioux on Saturday. Faragher tied a school record on Friday, making 24 saves in the second period alone.

Against the rest

WCHA teams are a combined 19-13-4 (.583) in 36 non-conference games. Conference teams are 7-0 against Atlantic Hockey, 4-6 against the CCHA, 3-2-1 against ECAC Hockey and 5-5-3 against Hockey East.

Between the dots …

Michigan Tech’s rise to No. 16 in this week’s NCAA Division I Men’s poll marks the Huskies’ first foray into the top 20 since they were ranked No. 15 in the Oct. 24, 2007, poll. … Faragher is expected to start both games for St. Cloud State in its home series with Wisconsin as Lee has not practiced this week while Huskies junior defenseman Tim Daly is likely out for the weekend as well due to flu symptoms. … Wisconsin sophomore forward Mark Zengerle jumped out to an early lead in the WCHA scoring race with 10 league points (4-6–10) after a five-point weekend (2 goals, 3 assists) against UNO last week. … Alaska-Anchorage is the league’s only idle team this week while Bemidji State travels to Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., to face No. 11 Lake Superior State in the lone non-conference series of the weekend involving a WCHA team.